Accuracy in the Farm Paddock

1000 Farm
1000 Farm

Article courtesy of ACP Media. (Farm Trader)

He could have done that easily by following in the footsteps of his father, a Methven spreading contractor who still operates as an owner/driver for Philip Wareing Ltd.

Instead, he spent a lot of time driving trucks to fund his way through Lincoln University, graduating with a Diploma in Agriculture and a degree in Transport Logistics. Once he had those qualifications under his belt, he still wasn’t quite sure just where he was going himself.

A stint on the phones as a customer service representative for Ravensdown soon sorted that problem. As the company sought to help farmers optimise their nutrient budgets, it was also looking for the right person to co-ordinate spreading distribution.

Today, working with five spreading companies in Waikato, Taranaki and Hawkes Bay, and Southland and Otago, Scott spends a lot of time with shareholders, introducing and explaining the benefits of Ravensdown’s sophisticated mapping technologies as well as working on pricing of recommended fertilisers.

The company has developed new spreading technologies for both environmental and economic reasons, he says.

“The aim is to provide our shareholders and customers with better accuracy of fertiliser placement, minimising waste as well as potentially harmful run-off. But because fertiliser inputs are a significant part of farm expenditure, maybe 20 percent in dairying for example, farmers also have a right to best management of those farm expenses.”

“And with greater accuracy of placement, fertiliser placements gain in effectiveness.”

During three years in his present position, Scott has seen big advances as the “proof of placement” concept was integrated with new mapping systems.

“Farmers now need to be provided with information showing fertiliser has really gone on – not only for their records of farming inputs, but for traceability of product.”

“As a fertiliser company, we are looking for the best possible coverage through our approved spreading contractors. But the digital information we can provide is also an assurance for farmers that the bill they receive matches the amount of product that was applied.”

Proof of placement maps are created using differential GPS systems, accurate to less than a metre, installed in the spreading trucks. As a truck moves around the paddock, the spreading controller calls up its mapping function.

“It’s quite a clever system, as we work with a farm map or a digital image of the farm to overlay spreading information which can be sent from truck to truck via the Vodafone network, so that they can pick up from each other, or else straight into the Ravensdown office. The end result is a detailed application map stored against the shareholder’s account, which can then be easily accessed through the Ravensdown website.”

“”Not only does it provide essential information for the farmer and the Ravensdown field officer, but it provides a platform that can be added to for even further accuracy, and a stepping stone into future spreading technologies.”

One of the clearest benefits is the exact description of applications, and the ability to see how much of each product has been applied over time.

“I have seen simple cases where paddocks have been missed, as well as many occasions when fertiliser has been applied to boundaries, obstacles and areas that don’t require fertiliser. But this system also provides an excellent farm management tool for remote farm managers who often see only the bills, and also for sharemilkers, who can rest assured their money has been correctly spent.”

“In time it will be possible to get a breakdown of the total applied NKPS, seeing exactly how many units of N have been applied, for example. Using this with soil tests, the farmer and field officer are then in a good position to work on differing application rates where necessary.”

Though uptake of the new Ravensdown technologies is currently limited to the five areas where venture partners already exist, plus one large corporate customer in Canterbury, the company is now looking to lease the concept to potential lessees elsewhere.

“We’re after the best possible coverage through approved contractors, and the advantage to those companies is that this system can also map truck movements and assist the productivity of their business.”

As New Zealand agriculture changes, more environmental issues will arise, he says, and new technologies will build on what is now available.

“We will be looking to layer different applications, building them up in various colours and providing a date range so that farmers can see all products applied over time.”

With all company equipment Spreadmark tested, and all partner companies Spreadmark certified, shareholders can be certain that the best possible information is being provided.

For Ravensdown shareholders in areas not currently provided with this information, it is simply a matter of talking to local spreading operators who could be interested in the joint venture project, he believes.

“Progressive companies will recognise all sorts of issues in front of us. We see it already in the Lake Taupo area, where fertiliser run-off is a concern and Landcorp is taking a strong lead in combating that risk by using this type of system to monitor their applications.”

Ravensdown technologies are also contributing to the monitor farm project in Kaikohe, with the company’s Waikato operators travelling there to demonstrate the new systems.

“Because the preservation of New Zealand’s clean green image is a hot topic, we are keen to ensure that spreading fertiliser has never been easier or more accurate.”

By Lyn McKinnon